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MA Supreme Court holds that teens who don’t supply alcohol at underage parties they host cannot be held civilly liable

It’s no secret that high school kids host parties with underage drinking. It’s also no secret that sometimes these parties don’t always end well-news reports of underage drunk driving accidents, and even deaths, speak for themselves. You’re all familiar with the incredibly tragic scenario. A high school party. Underage binge drinking. 3am car crash. The case on which today’s decision was based stems, not surprisingly, from a similar tragic fact pattern that occurred in 2007.

Who can be held responsible? Who pays in liability suit or a wrongful death suit? The teenagers who held the party? The friends or parents who supplied the alcohol? The hurt teenager himself, who was drinking illegally?

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court unanimously ruled today that teens who host parties where underage drinking occurs cannot be held civilly liable-usually meaning responsible for monetary damages-if they did not supply the alcohol. The court “reaffirm[ed] that liability attaches only where a social host either serves alcohol or exercises effective control over the supply of alcohol.”

This case centers on the concept of social host liability. There is no national tort standard on liability in this type of situation. In the current case, the court decided not to expand tort liability to teenagers who are just providing a location for the party to take place.

The Massachusetts Social Host Liability Law provides that adults who own a home where minors-other than a child or grandchild-are drinking can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a $2000 fine and a year in jail. This is even the case if the adult homeowner (or an adult in control of the home) did not provide the alcohol to underage individuals.

Law requires parents to take responsibility, Boston.com, January 29, 2012
SJC rules that teens who host underage drinking parties but don’t supply alcohol can’t be held liable in civil lawsuits, Boston.com, February 21, 2012